Making Our Thoughts Clear: The Role of Language in the Pursuit of Self-Knowledge – Eli Alshanetsky (Stanford)

February 26, 2018 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Orozco Room, A712
Johnson Hall
66 W 12th St, New York, NY 10011

We often make our thoughts clear to ourselves in the process of putting them into words. In this lecture I introduce a new puzzle about this process—one that’s reminiscent of the famous paradox about inquiry in Plato’s Meno. The puzzle is that, on the one hand, coming to know what we’re thinking seems to require finding words that would express our thought; yet, on the other hand, finding such words seems to require already knowing what we’re thinking.

I consider and reject two possible solutions to this puzzle. The first solution denies that language contributes to our knowledge of our thoughts. The second solution denies that we have a fully formed thought that we try to articulate in the first place. The failure of these solutions points to a positive account of the role of language in the pursuit of self-knowledge, on which language mediates between two different “formats” or modes of thought. Among the broader implications of this account is a richer conception of the aims and methods of philosophy.

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